I spent almost 3 years teaching English in China full or part time and it was one of the most intersting and rewarding things I’ve ever done. At times it was tough, frustrating and difficult, but overall I still beleive it’s a positive thing to do.
No doubt about it- teaching is an incredibly tiring thing to do, It is not like a desk-job. You have to constantly be on the ball and this can really sap your energy. This is why teaching contracts seem quite few hours, infact doing 9-5 soild teaching is almost impossible if you try to teach properly (I tried doing 60 hours in various jobs for a couple of weeks) and will almost-kill you!
I think going to China for a semester or two to teach is something that can really help you to appreciate more about the world in which we live.
If you go in with an open mind then things are easier to accept and adapting to the different way things are done takes less time.
I think one of the most important things I came out of being in China was to learn not to take yourself too seriously. Smile, enjoy things- be positive.
Sometimes It’s very easy to get frustrated by constant intransigence but trying to change things by getting angry ‘the angry laowai syndrome’ is a total waste of your time. There is a time and a place and trying to ‘teach’ your students in the classroom about the ‘real’ history behind China and the communists will only alienate you and could get you in trouble.
Learning to live with ‘It’s just the way it is’ and keeping an open mind I believe are probably the two most important things to embrace whilst teaching in China.
Often if you take things too seriously, you may find that the students won’t and you’re almost certainly find the administration won’t!
Taking everything into account, I am glad I have done it and I think I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to do so.
Here’s a list of some of the best and worst things about teaching in China that I encountered:
Not 8-5, stuck in an office. Each day is unique. At times really enjoyable. Huge flexibility, give you a chance to do things you really want to do – learn the language, a musical instrument etc…
Immensely satisfying, being able to help others. Watching your students (those that actually come to class!) progress over the year.
Respect – being a teacher commands a level of respect that died long ago in the UK for being in such a job. You will be called by your title ‘laoshi’ teacher – takes a while to get the students to address you differently.
Meet new people most days, huge eye-opener on how others live.
Pick up new ideas, thoughts, understand other ways of life.
Learn more about oneself – broaden your own feelings, beliefs.
Long Holidays – Couple of month paid winter vacation.
This list may be a little longer but that’s just because I’ve gone into some detail –
Not a challenge. Once beyond the initial shock of it all, start to realise that the job is rather repetitive. Not realising full potential. Despite the relative level of good pay, not a professional career by any means. you arealways the ‘waijiao’
Not professional, often taken as a joke. There just to make up the numbers – the system can make things almost impossible to do you job wellat times.
Insecure – Not long term – Let’s face (however much fun it may be) for somebody with an ounce of ambition, you can’t be an English teacher in China all of your life. (There are some older guys ((and it is almost all men)) that are tying to do this – but this is because they can’t go back home for whatever reason)
Pay – stuck on the same salary forever, little room for increases. You will never get rich teaching English in China.
No promotion – you are a Foreign teacher and that is it.
Stuck – It took me a few months to be able to get back into the job market back in the UK, It was really, really tough. I thought it would be easier and that employers would be interested in my skills andtalents acquired whilst in China, But actually asides curiosity it did not give me an advantage – more of a dis-advantage as my work-experience was often not deemed relevant enough and being a couple of years older meant I had more competition to compete with. I have no doubt whatsoever that being in China too long will hurt your prospects of making a career ‘back-home’. I dare say if you stay too long, very few professional employers will want to take you on when you come back.
Furthermore often the experience you gain in China is only of limited worth /not really recognised in the west in the world of work. Unless you have some serious connections, I have found that it cannot really be used as a stepping stone into a job back home.